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By air to battle on Swift Response

To start the final phase of Exercise Swift Response in North Macedonia, troops captured a foothold on the rugged Krivolak ranges in a complex air manoeuvre operation commanded by 16 Air Assault Brigade Combat Team, the British Army’s global response force.

Some 400 Italian paratroopers from the 187° Reggimento Paracadutisti “Folgore" jumped in, having flown in across the Adriatic Sea in Italian and US Air Force transport aircraft. Alongside them, RAF and US Army Chinook and US Blackhawk helicopters delivered British, French and Montenegrin troops to secure an enemy position. The assault force was protected by British Apache attack helicopters and US Air National Guard A-10C Thunderbolt II ground attack aircraft flying overhead. Then, 105mm Light Guns from 7th Parachute Regiment Royal Horse Artillery were lifted in by Chinooks as underslung loads to provide fire support to the Italian drop zone.

Later in the day, some 180 British soldiers parachuted in as reinforcements. The troops jumped under both British LLP canopies from an RAF C130 Hercules and US T-11 parachutes from a US C130 Hercules, demonstrating the abilities of NATO allies to share resources to improve their overall capability. The drop zone had been marked by the reconnaissance experts from the Pathfinders, who jumped in by freefall parachute after flying from the UK in an RAF C17 Globemaster. 

As the training develops, the joint force will be challenged to defend its position from enemy attack, and then move on to the offensive.

Brigadier Nick Cowley, Commander of 16 Air Assault Brigade Combat Team (BCT), said: “As very high readiness and air manoeuvre forces, 16 Air Assault BCT'’s selling point is its speed and reach. We are primed, resourced and trained to get wherever we’re needed fast and then win the first battle. The mission we have conducted today is a powerful demonstration of how we can deliver our unique skillset alongside our NATO allies.”

The exercise sees some 3,000 soldiers from eight NATO countries training together. A 2,000-strong British contingent is made up of the 2 PARA Battlegroup, built around the airborne infantry of 2 PARA supported by artillery, engineers, logisticians, medics, and signallers from 16 Air Assault BCT; and Aviation Task Force 1 with Apaches from 4 Regiment Army Air Corps and Chinooks of the RAF’s 18 Squadron.

The activity in North Macedonia is one element of Exercise Swift Response, which sees multinational forces under the direction of US Army Europe and Africa conducting simultaneous training across Europe – from the High North to the Balkans – to practice how airborne units can rapidly project force in response to developing crises.